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Lost-whole-groupTen years ago this fall, Lost debuted on ABC. It was groundbreaking drama with a premiere that smashed records and garnered a a rabidly devoted fan base.

Six years later, Lost ended as a letdown for many of its most faithful fans. Why did the show draw such attention? And why did it prove ultimately unsatisfying for so many viewers?

How Lost Drew Us In

Lost was at the forefront of “the binge-watching era,” a phrase used to describe the immediate consumption of entertainment through streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Because previous seasons of Lost were available on DVD and later online, viewers could start at the beginning whenever they wished and “catch up” on the show before joining the rest of the country for the new episodes.

And make no mistake, watching the show on television mattered. Audience participation was as vital to the experience as viewing the show itself. Coworkers discussed the show in the office the next day. Fans took to websites and blogs to share their theories, revel in the mysteries, and critique other people’s ideas.

The producers of Lost didn’t talk down to us. They expected us to catch the show’s philosophical bent. They wanted us to look up the famous thinkers Lost’s characters were named after – Rousseau, Locke, Faraday, Charlotte Staples Lewis, etc. They infused the show with religious imagery, ancient myths, and a mix of scientific and political theories.

As a result, Lost raised the bar for TV watching. The show was savvy and smart, with interesting characters and a gripping storyline. In our world today, people are closer than ever in public spaces of multicultural display (i.e. the airplane), and yet we are farther apart in our failure to know and understand the people around us. Lost created a microcosm of human society, a group of individuals united by tragedy, yet utterly divided in their opinions of how they can best battle the elements, resist their evil impulses, and discover the purpose for their lives.

Lost also captured the inner angst of our secular age – the desire to discover something beyond our own lives. The show depicted a world haunted by the echoes of transcendence. That’s why a common theme in the early seasons was the showdown between the “Man of Science” (Jack) versus “Man of Faith” (Locke). There was never any doubt that Lost would end up squarely on the Faith side of the equation, because the island was charged with cosmic grandeur. Even so, the man of faith would come with wrestle with doubt, and the man of science would be drawn to the island’s magic.

At every turn, the writers reinforced the idea that humans are part of a larger narrative, a grand scheme. The crossing of our paths is not accidental. A divine purpose ripples through creation and surprises us in ways the analytical mind cannot fully grasp.

Meanwhile, the sociological part of the show provided the greatest opportunities for character development. A disparate group of people from different cultures and backgrounds inhabit a deserted island. We watch them as they seek to create a society on an island full of ruins of failed experiments and dashed utopian dreams. Lost was gripping because it introduced us to characters we cared about and wanted to survive.

How Lost Lost Us

In Lost‘s later years, fans wondered if the show could answer all its mysteries. We began to doubt the overarching narrative. In order to continue to maintain the audience, the producers had to simultaneously resolve old mysteries and introduce new ones. As the mysterious elements began to pile up, the show began to slide toward chaos. The science fiction elements began to dominate the plot, often at the expense of character development.

In the first season, the island was a backdrop for the characters. Over time, the island’s unique attributes began to upstage the uniqueness of Lost‘s characters.

Then, after six years of promises, the show concluded with a widely watched finale that angered and disappointed the majority of viewers who’d come along for the ride. Lost premiered with a bang and went out with a whimper, a confusing amalgam of spiritual symbols that left viewers scratching their heads.

It turned out that Lost‘s biggest strength proved to be its biggest weakness. Its ambitiousness in creating characters whose lives intersected according to a cosmic purpose couldn’t keep pace with itself. The reason we watched Lost was its bold promise that everything will soon make sense. The reason we were let down was that the “sense-making” turned increasingly inward; the haunting transcendence of the island was reduced to the psychological deliverance of the characters.

The finale shouldn’t detract from Lost‘s many enjoyable moments. We imagined ourselves on the island with Lost‘s colorful cast of characters because we also inhabit a world of individual stories that are connected to a cosmic narrative that makes sense of reality. Lost drew us in because it reflected our own attempts to find meaning and love in a culture caught between science and faith.

But Lost let us down because all it could do was point ever so faintly toward the grand finale we long for in the deepest part of our souls – the last chapter of this present world when all wrongs will be righted, all injustices will cease, and we will finally understand purpose and pain.

Maybe that’s the best takeaway from Lost. Its contribution was to awaken people to the mysteries of the world around us. And with its thirst for transcendence, Lost still points beyond itself in the human search for answers to life’s greatest questions.

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11 thoughts on “LOST at 10: Still Lost After All These Years”

  1. What does this have to do with the Gospel?

      1. Trevin,
        I don’t think every post Christians make has to be “Christian.” I have a blog and it has plenty of secular posts. But you’d tend to think posts on “The Gospel Coalition” would have something to do with the Gospel.

        1. Trevin Wax says:

          The gospel is the lens through which we look at life; it’s the worldview from which we write. It doesn’t have to be the subject of every post. That’s the way I’ve always blogged. Moving to tgc doesn’t change that.

  2. I didn’t say every post had to be about the Gospel; I just said, “What does this have to do with the Gospel?” because I believe most people will believe – and I would say understandably so – that posts on TGC will have something to do with the Gospel. And by definition looking at issues “through the lens of the Gospel” would mean seeing what the Gospel has to say about issues; thereby, necessitating some relationship to the Gospel, some mention of it, etc.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I think it’s pretty clear that I’m viewing Lost from the perspective of someone who believes God will put the world to rights at the end of time, in a way that the show’s directors were unable to accomplish on a small scale. There are plenty of touch points from Lost to the gospel. My goal is to get people thinking about the show from a broader perspective of human longing, storytelling, etc.

      This is the way I’ve always blogged at Kingdom People. I don’t plan on changing it. ;-)

  3. Whitney Kugel says:

    Gotta say that Lost has been my favorite television show since I first started watching it. Its interesting for me because I started watching Lost before I became a Christian. I watched three seasons through the eyes of someone who did not know the gospel. In part, it was some of the larger themes of the show which delt with faith, purpose, and the “bigger picture” that got me thinking about a lot of these issues applied to me. What is the bigger picture that I am a part of? What is my purpose?

    I have gone back and watched it again after being saved and it is interesting how differently I viewed things. The most painful part was watching the last season and especially the finally. Its really hard to enjoy an ending that doesn’t accurately depict the after life.

    I still enjoy this show, and think that its a great way to lead into a discussion about the gospel while talking about the shows theme with fellow fans.

    1. Whitney Kugel says:

      PS. Today, October 26 is the I was saved back in 2008.

  4. JC Bennett says:

    You pointed out positives, but did not deal with the most troubling elements. The entirety of the show took place in something like purgatory were people had to earn their salvation through either paying for their own sins or becoming better people. The finale supported a view of universalism as everyone was welcomed into the afterlife after their time on the island had been served.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Yeah, I was trying not to give too much away in the way in the spoilers, for my friends who are still working through the series. But you’re right about self-salvation and self-exaltation being one of the elements of salvation in the show.

  5. Jill M. says:

    I was a huge LOST fan throughout my university years. I threw LOST season finale parties complete with Dharma Initiative Cola ( Therefore, I really appreciate this post, Trevin, and your insights into why LOST was so magnetically fascinating and appealing. The show attempted to create a world where every detail mattered (the numbers!!) and seemed to be interwoven into, as you put it, “a larger narrative, a grand scheme.” It was a show that promised to reward the observant, thoughtful viewer. It was, as you pointed out, a show that whetted a thirst it could never quench. However ambitious, LOST showcased the limitations of human creativity. Upon reading this post, I have also reflected on the amazing orchestration of God’s sovereignty, particularly in my own salvation in coming to know Jesus. Such seemingly small turns and events have led me to where — and who — I am today. And yet, it is so clear that God has determined my steps all along. And there is such awe and joy in that. So thanks! :)

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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